Sunday, March 23, 2014

According to the New York Times, Barack Obama has "Catholic roots." I did not know that!

Today's issue of the Sunday Times contained two front-page articles that contained very few facts. First was a story about the missing Malaysia Airlines jet. Although no one knows anything about what happened to that airplane, the Times managed to crank out a lengthy front-page story.

Second, the Times carried a front-page story by Jason Horowitz entitled "The Catholic Roots of Obama's Activism." Let's give Horowitz credit.  Like Wolf Blitzer talking about Malaysia Flight 370, he can go on and on without imparting any information.

It is true that Obama attended a Catholic school as a child in Indonesia. But, as Horowitz noted, this experience did not turn Obama toward Catholicism. "Nothing happened," Obama recalled. "No angels descended. Just a parched old nun, and 30 brown children, muttering words."

And it is also true that Obama got his start in politics working as a community organizer with an office in a Chicago Catholic Church.  During that period of his life, he was in contact with many Chicago
Catholics. But there is no evidence that he was drawn to the Catholic faith in any way. He may have attended a few Masses in Chicago Catholic churches, but we see no sign that he was moved by the mystery of the Mass--by the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Horowitz's puff piece is evidently intended to buff up Obama's Catholic credentials prior to his meeting with Pope Francis.  But Pope Francis is no fool. I feel sure the Pope knows exactly where President Obama stands on matters of faith.

After reading Horowitz's article I went to my bookshelf and pulled out my copy of Father Elijah: An Apocalypse, a novel written by Michael D. O'Brien. Father Elijah is one of those obscure Catholic novels that are completely unknown to non-Catholics.  In essence, the novel is about a priest named Father Elijah, a Holocaust survivor and Catholic convert, who is sent as an emissary of the Pope to the President of the Federation of European States.

Although O'Brien published his novel in  1996, before anyone was thinking about Barack Obama as a future President of the United States,  O'Brien's fictional president of the Federation of European States is very much like Obama.  Like Obama, the fictional president is a humanist and a man who has collected many honors and degrees.  Like Obama, O'Brien's president is lauded by the press as a man of destiny.  His face appears everywhere on the covers of journals, on television, and in the newspapers. Like Obama, the fictional president is the author of books that have sold millions of copies. Like Obama, the fictional president seems to herald a new world order, a world order based on peace, harmony and justice.

But underneath the European leader's charisma and his avowed aim to create a new and better world, there lurks a sinister design.  In fact, O'Brien's fictional president is scheming to destroy Catholicism.

Early in the book, Father Elijah is summoned to a meeting with the Pope, who tells Father Elijah that the president has reached out to the Catholic Church, seeking to have it join in his vision for a new world order. But the Pope is deeply skeptical. The Pope suspects the president merely wants to use the Pope for propaganda purposes.

"He wishes to use the Church for as long as he needs her," O'Brien's fictional pope tells Father Elijah. "But he despises her, because he has never understood her divine nature."

In fact, O'Brien's fictional pope comes very close to calling the fictional president the Antichrist. "I do not call any many Antichrist while his soul hangs in the balance, while he is still free to choose the good," the pope ruminates.

"But with utmost certainty, I tell you that his ideas move in the realm of Antichrist. Even so, Christ would come for even one man. Christ died for this man."

I am not the first person who sees a connection between Barack Obama and the fictional president in O'Brien's novel. Tom O'Toole wrote a piece in 2011, in which he makes this connection.

And I am not calling President Obama the Antichrist. Nevertheless, he has implemented policies that directly offend the Catholic Church, something no recent president has done.

Of course, Obama is not the first American president to show open disdain for Catholicism. That honor goes to John Adams, our nation's second president.  Adams made no secret of his contempt for Catholicism, which, in his opinion, left its adherents in "a state of sordid ignorance" (Metzger, 1962, p. 12).

But most of our great presidents--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and even Andrew Jackson, for goodness sake--have publicly showed their respect for Catholicism.  And these men served as president during times when Protestant America was deeply hostile to Catholicism.

But Obama, like the fictional character in Michael O'Brien's novel, only shows respect to our Church when it is politically expedient.  And I'm sure Pope Francis knows that.

But let us pray for Barack Obama. Angels did not descend when Obama was introduced to Catholicism as a child. But who knows?  Maybe angels will yet descend.


Jason Horowitz. The Catholic Roots of Obama's Activism: He Found his Voice in a Chicago Parish. Now He'll Speak With the Pope. New York Times, March 23, 2014, p.A1.

Michael D. O'Brien. Father Elijah: An Apocalypse. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996.

Charles H. Metzger. Catholics and the American Revolution. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1962).

Tom O'Toole. "An Apocalypse" now? Can Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah stop the Antichrist? Renew America blog. August 17, 2011. Available at:

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